Skip to main content
BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms

BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms

By Michigan Virtual
Michigan is home to so many outstanding educators. In this podcast, powered by Michigan Virtual, we talk to inspirational Michigan educators known for their innovative approach to learning and hear first-hand what their classrooms look like, how these changes impact students, and what advice they have for fellow educators looking to try something new.
Listen on
Where to listen
Apple Podcasts Logo

Apple Podcasts

Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

Pocket Casts Logo

Pocket Casts

RadioPublic Logo


Spotify Logo


A message from the BRIGHT team: We'll be back at the end of May for the rest of Season 3!
We’re taking a short break, but we’ll be back for the last six episodes of Season 3 at the end of May. So, stay tuned, and, of course, thank you for your support as we continue to share these stories of hope and innovation in Michigan classrooms.
May 06, 2022
3 Tips for Starting an Esports Program at Your School (feat. Steve Forsberg from Ludington High School)
Esports teams provide leadership, community building, and growth opportunities to students who might not otherwise choose to engage in organized school activities. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Steve Forsberg, the assistant principal of Ludington High School, who also serves as their esports coach. Steve explains why these leagues are booming in popularity and shares his top three tips for starting an esports program at your school.
April 20, 2022
3 Tried-and-True Tips for Mentoring Online Learners (feat. Debbie Lynch from Michigan Virtual)
Research has shown that online students are twice as likely to succeed if they have a dedicated mentor. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Debbie Lynch, our outreach coordinator for mentors at Michigan Virtual. Debbie shares examples from her many years as a mentor and offers three tried-and-true tips for supporting online learners.
April 13, 2022
3 Tips for Building Agency as a Teacher (feat. Anne Perez from Michigan Virtual)
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with your to-do list, it can be challenging to step back and reflect on what’s actually within your control. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Anne Perez, who was in the classroom as an English teacher for 15 years before joining the Michigan Virtual team as a senior professional learning specialist. Anne shares how she defines “agency,” tells a story about a time when a student helped her understand its true importance, and offers three tips for building this vital skill as a teacher.
April 06, 2022
3 Tips for Starting a Therapy Dog Program at Your School (feat. Joel Asiala from Washington Middle School)
The effect that a therapy dog can have on a struggling student is nothing short of incredible. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Joel Asiala, the principal of Washington Middle School in Michigan’s northernmost school district, the Public Schools of Calumet, Laurium, and Keweenaw. Joel breaks down his district’s “student-first” approach, shares how and why he had his family pet Tucker trained as a professional therapy dog, and offers his top three tips for starting a therapy dog program at your school.
March 30, 2022
3 Tips for Bringing Mindfulness into Your Classroom (feat. Jodie Kleymeer from Lake Shore Public Schools)
Each year, empirical studies are added to the mountain of research demonstrating the numerous benefits of mindfulness. In the K-12 classroom, mindfulness practices can deliver brief, but effective social emotional interventions for students. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Jodie Kleymeer, a media specialist for Lake Shore Public Schools who teaches a help desk class for students. Jodie shares her personal journey in discovering the power of meditation in the midst of the pandemic and shares three tips for bringing mindfulness into the classroom.
March 23, 2022
3 Strategies for Using AAC to Foster Student Authenticity and Self-Advocacy (feat. Rachael Langley from Eaton RESA)
The technology available to help students with complex communication needs express their thoughts and feelings is better today than ever before. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Rachael Langley, a speech-language pathologist and an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) consultant for Eaton RESA, who shares three strategies for using this technology to foster student authenticity and self-advocacy.
March 16, 2022
3 Strategies for Reinventing Learning in Your School Community (feat. Dr. Dave Richards from the Future of Learning Council)
What could K-12 education look like if we let go of our assumptions about what school is supposed to be and instead focused exclusively on designing learning experiences around what's best for kids? In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Dr. Dave Richards, an executive learning strategist for Michigan Virtual, former superintendent of Fraser Public Schools, and one of the founding members of the Future of Learning Council. Dave shares a personal story of how school transformed his life as someone born into extreme poverty, articulates a vision for what learning can be at its finest, and offers three strategies for reinventing learning in your school community.
March 02, 2022
3 Strategies for Making Sure Every Student Belongs (feat. Dr. Bobbie Hayes Goodrum from Farmington Public Schools)
There’s a big difference between “tolerance” and “belonging.” You can feel this distinction on a personal level by answering the question: Would you rather be tolerated in your community or feel like you belong? In this episode of the BRIGHT podcast, we chat with Dr. Bobbie Hayes Goodrum, assistant superintendent of DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) for Farmington Public Schools. Dr. Goodrum gets straight to the heart of why DE&I work is so essential in education, offers a fascinating perspective on why the language we use matters, and leaves listeners with three strategies for ensuring every student belongs.
February 23, 2022
3 Tips for Managing Behaviors in the Classroom (feat. Cheldora Haynes from Martin G. Atkins Elementary School)
After Cheldora Haynes' first year of teaching, she embarked on a quest to improve her classroom management. “There has to be there has to be better out there,’” she told herself. “People's classrooms can’t look like this all the time.” In this episode of the BRIGHT podcast, we chat with Cheldora, who was recently honored as a 2021-22 regional teacher of the year for her work with third graders at Martin G. Atkins Elementary School in Bridgeport, MI. Cheldora shares the lessons she learned along the way, articulates her philosophy on student agency and accountability, and offers three tips for managing behaviors in the classroom.
February 16, 2022
3 Ways to Bring Computer Science Concepts Into Your Classroom (feat. Kevin Santer from Michigan Virtual)
Computer science education goes far beyond coding. In this episode of the BRIGHT podcast, we chat with Kevin Santer, a lead online instructor for Michigan Virtual who left a 20-year career in software development to become a teacher. Kevin uses the lens of computer science to explore what it really means to think critically and offers three strategies for bringing computer science concepts into the classroom.
February 09, 2022
3 Strategies for Coping With & Preventing Educator Burnout (feat. Molly Davis from Wild Goose Counseling & the Beautiful Boundaries Bootcamp)
There's a deep and fascinating connection between boundaries and burnout. In this episode of the BRIGHT podcast, we chat with Molly Davis — a counselor and psychotherapist from Alaska who runs an 8-week online boundaries intensive, the Beautiful Boundaries Bootcamp. Molly dives into the relationship between boundaries and burnout, shares a bit of wisdom about how she walks this line as a professional counselor, and offers three strategies for coping with and preventing educator burnout.
February 02, 2022
3 Tips for Setting & Tracking Goals with Students (feat. Sam Sicilia from Waverly Community Schools)
The process of setting and tracking goals can help students take ownership of their growth rather than experiencing school passively. In this episode of the BRIGHT podcast, we chat with Sam Sicilia, an instructional coach and former classroom teacher at Waverly Community Schools, who shares three tips for helping students see the value in defining and measuring their success.
January 26, 2022
3 Tips for Coding with Young Students (feat. Nicole Green from MacArthur K-8 University Academy)
Coding can help young students recognize their intelligence, creativity, and ability to manipulate the technology at their fingertips to solve real-world problems. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Nicole Green, a K-8 technology teacher for MacArthur University Academy in Southfield Public Schools. Nicole shares her own journey in learning to code, why she’s so passionate about bringing these experiences into her classroom, and her top three strategies for coding with young students.
January 19, 2022
3 Strategies for Providing Culturally Responsive Education to Native American Students (feat. Tan-A Hoffman from JKL Bahweting Anishnabe School)
What does it mean to provide a culturally responsive education to Native American students? As a teacher, where should you begin? In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Tan-A Hoffman — a second-grade teacher at JKL Bahweting Anishnabe School and a 2020-21 regional teacher of the year, representing her geographic area in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Tan-A shares some incredible stories, a brief bit of history, and three strategies for providing culturally responsive education to Native American students.
January 12, 2022
What It’s Really Like to Be An Online Teacher (feat. Amy Smith from Michigan Virtual)
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an online teacher? In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Amy Smith, a French and health instructor for Michigan Virtual, who was recognized as their 2020 Online Teacher of the Year. Amy shares her honest insights into a day-in-the-life of an online teacher, how it compares to face-to-face teaching, and what advice she has for those who are new to teaching in an online environment.
October 06, 2021
The Fall of Letter Grades & the Rise of Comprehensive Learner Records (feat. Bruce Umpstead from IMS Global Learning Consortium)
Many leaders in education believe there are better ways to represent a student’s journey through their K-12 education than letter grades. But what might a richer representation of a student’s learning look like and what would it take for us to get there? In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Bruce Umpstead, director of statewide programs for IMS Global Learning Consortium, who explains what comprehensive learner records are and why these digital transcripts will be a crucial step toward building a competency-based future.
September 29, 2021
Why Online Learning Can Be Liberating for Students with IEP and 504 Plans (feat. Lisa Rohde from Michigan Virtual)
Some students with IEP and 504 plans thrive in flexible, self-paced online classrooms. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Lisa Rohde, special education and instructional support manager at Michigan Virtual, who shares some of the pros and cons of online learning for students requiring accommodations.
September 22, 2021
Bringing the World Into Your Classroom with Technology (feat. Natalie Anderson from Saline Area Schools)
With so many new apps and programs out there, it’s easy for even experienced teachers to feel dazzled and overwhelmed by all of the cool things you can do with technology in the classroom today. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Natalie Anderson, a fifth-grade teacher from Saline Area Schools and MACUL’s 2021 Innovative Teacher of the Year, who shares her personal philosophy for using technology with students, her go-to favorite tech tools, and her experience bringing hackathons, virtual museum visits, and Genius Hour into her fifth-grade classroom.
September 15, 2021
What Kindergarten Bloggers Can Teach Us About Wonder (feat. Barb Ozminkowski from Walled Lake Consolidated Schools)
Kindergarten is such a special time in a child's education. It's a time when the world is still rife with discovery, when dinosaurs are unbelievably cool, and when a magnifying glass can bring out new dimensions in the seemingly ordinary. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Barb Ozminkowski, a kindergarten teacher from Walled Lake who was an early adopter of technology in her classroom and has been blogging with her young students for years.
September 08, 2021
The Past, Present, & Future of Online Course Design (feat. Kristi Peacock from Michigan Virtual)
It’s no secret to say that online learning has changed a lot in the past couple of decades. After all, at the turn of the century, online courses were still being distributed on CD-ROMs. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Kristi Peacock, a course development manager for Michigan Virtual, who shares what it means to be an instructional designer, what advice she has for educators designing their own online learning experiences for students, and what she hopes the future will hold for this ever-evolving sector of education.
September 01, 2021
The Art of Debugging & How to Think Like a Computer Scientist (feat. Dr. Aman Yadav from Michigan State University)
“Computational thinking” is a concept that has been making waves in K-12 education since 2006. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Dr. Aman Yadav, a professor of educational psychology and educational technology at Michigan State University, who shares his insights on the rich applications of both "plugged" and "unplugged" computational thinking for the K-12 classroom and sheds light on the biased algorithms that govern our everyday lives.
August 25, 2021
The Conflicted History & Achievable Future of Social Emotional Learning (feat. Lauren Kazee from Living S.L.O.W.)
For many of us adults, emotional awareness and mental health were not topics that were discussed either at school or at home while we were growing up. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Lauren Kazee, one of Michigan’s leading experts on social emotional learning or “SEL,” who shares her personal definition of SEL, dives into the history of this concept, and offers advice for educators looking to prioritize their own social and emotional wellness and model this behavior for their students.
August 18, 2021
The Beautifully Unclear Future of Educational Technology (feat. Sarah Wood from Kent ISD)
There’s a strange — and somewhat uncomfortable — beauty to the fact that it’s difficult, if not impossible to predict how technology will shape the way we teach, learn, live, love, work, and play in the future. In this episode of BRIGHT, Sarah Wood, an educational technology consultant for Kent Intermediate School District, shares her reflections on the recent history, current state, and beautifully unclear future of technology in the classroom.
August 11, 2021
How Can We Go Beyond Requirements & Take Pressure Out of Learning? (feat. Erin Carlson from Sandusky Community Schools)
It can be incredibly powerful for students to have opportunities to learn where there are no grades attached and they can connect to the intrinsic value of a learning experience, whether it be for the love of a good story or for the joy of making a positive impact in their home community. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Erin Carlson, an English teacher at Sandusky Jr./Sr. High School who shares her journey in creating requirement-free learning opportunities for her students.
August 04, 2021
Bringing Big Ideas to Life With Design Thinking (feat. David Byron from Sundberg-Ferar)
Design is all around us, but most of the time, it’s invisible. You see the products that result from it, but you usually don’t see the process that went into making them. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with David Byron, director of innovation strategy at Sundberg-Ferar, a product innovation studio in Walled Lake, who explains how the tried & true process of design thinking can help students and adults alike in solving complicated problems, such as the many and multifaceted issues facing the field of education today.
July 28, 2021
How Might Artificial Intelligence Change The Way We Teach? (feat. Lou Aronson from Discourse Analytics)
It can be fascinating — and alright, sometimes a little scary —  to speculate on the implications that artificial intelligence (AI) might have for the future of our society. But in many ways — both small and profound — AI is already transforming the way we interact with media and with one another through companies like Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and more. In this episode of BRIGHT, we chat with Lou Aronson, the CEO and founder of a company called Discourse Analytics, who shares his perspective on how AI has the potential to transform the way we teach and learn.
July 21, 2021
Lessons Learned: The Heart & Soul of Teaching
One theme that has surfaced over and over again throughout our conversations with educators is the fact that, at the end of the day, relationships are the true heart & soul of teaching. The best way to teach someone, after all, is to first get to know them and develop a personal connection. Throughout Season 1 of BRIGHT, several of our guests shared their perspectives and experiences related to this topic, which we recap in this episode.
June 23, 2021
Lessons Learned: The Need for Equity in Education
It’s no surprise that there are some deep equity issues in education that need to be addressed before every single student can have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Throughout Season 1 of BRIGHT, several of our guests spoke about issues related to equity, which we recap in this episode.
June 15, 2021
Lessons Learned: The Classrooms of the Future
What will the classrooms of the future look like? In this episode of BRIGHT, we explore themes on the future of learning. Throughout Season 1, a few key terms came up regularly during our interviews: student-centered learning, project-based learning, and competency-based learning. At the center of all these theories lies the notion of giving students more agency over their learning. Many educators agree with this base premise. The more interesting question, however, is: What do these theories look like in practice?
June 07, 2021
Becoming a Voice for the Voiceless (feat. Kyron Harvell from Lansing Public Schools)
For marginalized students, school needs to become a place that counteracts the cultural forces working against them. In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Kyron Harvell, the director of the school culture and climate grant for Lansing School District, who shares his mission of serving as a voice for the voiceless in his school community. In this conversation, we explore how Kyron and his team are cultivating a culture of inclusivity in Lansing centered around equitable access to learning opportunities, culturally responsive practices, social emotional learning, and restorative justice.
May 26, 2021
What's the Secret to Keeping Students Motivated in Online Learning? (feat. Dr. Chris Harrington from the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute)
During this past year, one of the biggest challenges educators reported was keeping students engaged and motivated while learning online during the pandemic. In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Dr. Chris Harrington, the director of the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, who shares his reflections on pandemic teaching, common misconceptions about online learning, and the findings of his team's landmark study on student engagement.
May 21, 2021
The Delightful Power of Music to Make Learning More Engaging (feat. Ben Ashby from Zeeland Public Schools)
As human beings, music has the power to enchant us, connect us, and also… to teach us. In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Ben Ashby  — or Señor Ashby as he’s known in his Spanish classroom at Zeeland Public Schools and to his online students at Michigan Virtual. We talked about the role music plays in learning, how online teaching has influenced the way he runs his face-to-face classroom and vice versa, and his hopes for education as we look to the future.
May 07, 2021
How to Reignite Love for Learning with a Project-Based Curriculum (feat. Dr. Sarah Pazur from FlexTech High Schools)
For all students — but especially for those who struggle in the traditional classroom — project-based learning can offer an opportunity to rediscover the joy of learning. In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Dr. Sarah Pazur, the director of school leadership at FlexTech High Schools, who shares the why and how behind this vision for learning along with examples of some really cool projects that allowed students to explore their interests, meet core competencies, and have real-world impacts.
April 30, 2021
How Can We Make School A Place Students WANT to Be? (feat. Kyle Saari from Negaunee Public Schools)
When students are excited to be at school and take ownership over their learning, the results can be absolutely incredible, In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Kyle Saari, a fifth-grade teacher for Negaunee Public Schools, who explores his belief that “comfort leads to confidence” and shows us that when students feel confident, they’re more willing to tackle bigger projects that are conducive to deep learning.
April 23, 2021
When School Feels Like Home, Something Wonderful Happens (feat. Ben Gilpin from Warner Elementary School)
Every student, every teacher, every person has a story. In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Ben Gilpin, principal of Warner Elementary School, who explores how he and his staff have cultivated a family-like atmosphere at their school and why educating the "whole child" means listening to and honoring their whole story.
April 16, 2021
Why Growth Mindsets Are So Important For Student Success in Math (feat. Christy Trombetta from Michigan Virtual)
Many students think they’re “bad at math.” In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Christy Trombetta, an online math teacher at Michigan Virtual, who has a particular knack for helping students develop growth mindsets in her online math classroom. When a student tells her they’re “bad at math,” she takes this self-labeling as a signal that the student may need extra support to shift their inner dialogue from “I’m bad at math” to “I can actually do this.”
April 09, 2021
Are Grade Levels Getting In The Way of Learning? (feat. Mike Burde from Kenowa Hills Public Schools)
What if there's something better than “grade levels” to frame how students progress through the K-12 curriculum? What if rather than basing academic progression on the age of a student, we instead focused on what they know and can do? In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Mike Burde, assistant superintendent at Kenowa Hills Public Schools who shares his vision for a system of schooling that goes beyond “time-based advancement” and instead revolves around personal mastery. Throughout our conversion, he sheds insight into why this shift matters and how his district is using Marzano’s framework for high-reliability schools to build a system of schooling where all students — not just most — can thrive.
April 02, 2021
A Forest Most Beautiful (feat. Kelly Tillman from Walled Lake Consolidated Schools)
Sometimes, in education, we need to step back to see the forest for the trees. But not always. In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Kelly Tillman, an art educator at Walled Lake Consolidated Schools who teaches in a choice-based art classroom and reminds us that it’s often the variation between the trees themselves that makes the forest most beautiful.
March 26, 2021
It Takes a Village to Educate a Child (feat. Kerry Downs from the Flint Community Education Initiative)
Especially now with teachers asked to play so many different roles, the model of “community education” provides a compelling and sustainable answer to the question: How can we support the “whole child” in education?  In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Kerry Downs, the executive director of the Flint Community Education Initiative about the innovative work her organization does to bring community partners together to support Flint teachers, students, and families.
March 19, 2021
The Life-Affirming Role Of Authenticity in Learning (feat. Amos Briscoe from WAVE)
For many new teachers, it can be a struggle to figure out how to be an authentic version of yourself while navigating the many and varied expectations of what a teacher is “supposed to be.” In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Amos Briscoe, an art educator for the Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education (WAVE) who shares his journey going from feeling like an actor on a stage to bringing authenticity front and center in his classroom.
March 12, 2021
What's Best for Kids (feat. Tanya Leon from Richards Middle School)
Tanya Leon believes our education system needs reimagining to make learning meaningful and effective for ALL students. “Are we doing things because it's the way we've always done it,” she asks, “or because it's what's best for kids?” In this episode of BRIGHT, we talk to Tanya about her vision for a personalized, competency-based system of schooling and what this looks like in practice in her English classroom at Richards Middle School in Fraser, MI.
March 05, 2021
Valuing vs. Acknowledging Diversity (feat. Joy Taylor from WAVE)
There’s a difference between acknowledging diversity in education and valuing it. In this episode, we talk to Joy Taylor, a teacher consultant at the Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education who shares her experiences personalizing learning for students left behind by the traditional system and posits a vision for education that goes beyond lip service to truly value diverse perspectives.
February 19, 2021
Where Does Tech Belong in Teaching? (feat. Amy Gwizdz & Bob Harrison from Dearborn Public Schools)
The role of technology in our classrooms has never been so prominent, nor so strained as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instructional technology coaches for Dearborn Public Schools, Amy Gwizdz and Bob Harrison, share their hopes that we can emerge from this crisis not adverse to technology in the classroom, but simply more intentional with it.
February 11, 2021
Introducing BRIGHT: Stories of Hope & Innovation in Michigan Classrooms
In this welcome message, Nikki and Jeff introduce our new podcast called BRIGHT. This series will feature interviews with inspirational Michigan educators known for their innovative approach to learning, and you'll hear first-hand what their classrooms look like, how change impacts students, and what advice they have for fellow teachers looking to try something new.
January 29, 2021